I’ve been working on processing my backlog of newspaper articles that I downloaded during my burst of newspaper research in June and July. I don’t know about you, but when I’m doing newspaper research (or, really, any genealogy research), it can be tempting not to go to the trouble of downloading everything I find because it doesn’t seem important enough. And when I’m in the midst of a research session sometimes the downloading (or printing or copying, if I’m actually looking at paper documents) can seem so tedious that I only bother with the big stuff.
Come to think about it, that’s one advantage of short, frequent research sessions that I should add to my post The value of daily research. Since I don’t get bleary-eyed or weary during short sessions, I’m more likely to make the effort to download everything.
In any case, this week, as I was processing some newspaper articles, I was so happy that I had taken the effort to download even the tiniest articles. For example, there was an article in The Clinton Eye of Clinton, Henry, Missouri about my grandmother, Susie Jeffries Brown (1907-1999), having her tonsils and adenoids out on August 26, 1919. I didn’t think much of it when I downloaded it, but as I processed it, I noticed that the surgery took place 50 miles from her home in Rockville, Bates, Missouri and that it happened two days after her twelfth birthday.
I paused to think about whether 12-year-old Susie might have spent her birthday full of trepidation about the surgery and I wondered how long she stayed in the hospital. Was she served ice cream? (That always seemed to be the best part of getting your tonsils out when I was a kid.) It prompted me to do a little more research and I learned that by 1919 tonsillectomies were growing more prevalent (in fact hers was one of three mentioned in the newspaper article!), though they exploded in popularity in the 1920s. (If you’re as big a nerd as me and feel like digging into the topic, you can read The Rise and Decline of Tonsillectomies from The Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences (vol. 62, No. 4, October 2007) at JSTOR.)
I was lucky enough to have known my grandmother, who died in her 90s when I was in my 30s. But I almost always think of her as a senior citizen. Sometimes I think of her as a mother of young children, as I recall stories my mother told me about her childhood. But I don’t know much about my grandmother’s childhood, mostly because I was lousy listener as a kid and young adult.
So this little newspaper article added to my understanding of my grandmother’s childhood and, perhaps more importantly, gave me reason to think about her as a child.
Whenever I’m tempted to skip downloading something, I’m going to remember that trivial things can often provide great clues when taken together with other clues found over time. That makes them important to capture. But even when they’re truly trivial, they can provide valuable little insights.